Ticket sales remain frigid for Pyeongchang Winter Games
Sunday, September 10, 2017
By Ben Fischer Sports Business Journal
Signs are emerging that ticket sales for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics could be historically low, with South Korean organizers openly acknowledging meager interest and good seats still available through foreign resellers in the U.S. and other key markets.
On Aug. 31, organizers said only about 5 percent of the 1.18 million tickets have been sold to end users so far, with another 18 percent sold to international ticket resellers, suggesting the Games are on pace to fall well short of its 90 percent target by the Feb. 9 opening ceremony.
Pyeongchang 2018 President Lee Hee-beom called for an International Olympic Committee summit on ticket sales and blamed international sellers for overly expensive and poorly promoted tickets, even though promotion and pricing are his own committee’s purview.
Reasons abound for the low interest.
Totalitarian North Korea, just 50 miles north of the Games’ footprint, continues to threaten war with its neighbors and the U.S., but even for those fans not fazed by that, hotel shortages and a general lack of appeal outside of the sporting events themselves are a hindrance.
“I think people are too fearful about North Korea, but to be honest it’s not a great tourist destination to begin with,” said Brian Peters, CEO of Bucket List Events, an Austin, Texas, travel agency that puts together sports-themed packages. “I guess I should be espousing the opposite viewpoint, but it’s just not a great tourist destination. You’ve got to be going because you want to see the Olympics.”
Seventy percent of the 1.18 million seats are reserved for Korean fans, with the other 30 percent distributed globally. In June, USA Today reported that 160,000, or about 14 percent of tickets, had been allocated.
A second round of sales will start in Korea on Tuesday.
On Aug. 30, the website owned by authorized U.S. ticket seller CoSport showed seats available for the finals in marquee events such as men’s downhill skiing and skiing halfpipe, along with eight ice hockey preliminary sessions.
CoSport spokesman Michael Kontos said the firm believes sales are proceeding about as expected and the availability is not unusual five months out. He declined to compare Pyeongchang to prior Winter Games, noting that “each one presents different factors that affect sales, such as distance, expense of travel, or even the prevailing economic conditions."
Ken Hanscom, COO of InviteManager, a maker of software to manage corporate events, believes it is slower than four years ago. “For Sochi at this point, there was nothing left,” said Hanscom, who closely follows ticketing for major events. “So now to see anything, specifically a gold-medal event inventory on the CoSport site, is really interesting.”
In Canada, authorized reseller ATPI Sports Events reports that 70 percent of its available tickets have been sold, and says demand is in line with expectations.
Bucket List has almost no “retail” interest in Pyeongchang packages, Peters said. His revenue will be comparable to 2014, he said, because he’s added more Team USA family members as clients. “If I didn’t have family members of athletes, this would be pretty much a nonevent for us,” he said.
Even with low interest in attending, accommodations are in short supply, making it more difficult for anyone putting together a trip now.
Pyeongchang and nearby Gangneung together is already the smallest Olympic host in decades, and 11 new hotels in the Olympic plan are not yet finished, the IOC said in July. Three of them, with 1,600 rooms, might not be done until the final days. “It’s been hard to produce good rooms just for the family members,” Peters said. “If this was a huge retail event outside of the athletes, I don’t know how it would get done.”
Financially, ticket sales are a secondary concern to the Olympic movement. The IOC received more than 90 percent of its revenue from media rights and sponsorship worldwide in the last quadrennial. But for a Korean operating budget that’s expected to keep growing beyond its latest version of $2.4 billion, the lack of ticket sales is another challenge. If ticket sales reach the 90 percent target, it would generate about $151 million, according to the committee.
“At the end of the day, the high-demand events are going to be filled,” Hanscom said. “And people are going to watch on TV. But unless there’s some changes with the promotion and getting the excitement going globally, you could see fewer people in a number of venues than we’ve seen in some time.”